Waiting is Hard!
Based on Mark 13:24-37, Isaiah 64:1-9, 1Cor 1:3-9
Can you remember that feeling? You know the one, the overwhelming feeling that Christmas would never get here? After months of pouring over gift catalogs and talking to friends – of watching ads on TV, you would get to the Santa letter writing stage. Once that was mailed off, however, there wasn’t much to do except wait for December 25th to come. My maternal grandmother was a talented seamstress and so she made us felt Christmas tree calendars with different ornaments for each day of the month. We would stick these ornaments on the tree each day and wish that it was already Christmas Eve. Remember that feeling – the excitement – the frustration at the slowness of each 24 hour day?!
It is kind of like that with my spiritual life as well. I’m excited because after months of green colored paraments, we finally have new colors. We have candles to light and carols to sing, old familiar stories and promises to read. We have begun a new liturgical year and now I only have a very few Sundays in which to say all that I think God might want me to say about the phenomenal event that took place so long ago. When God came down as a baby born to a simple couple in a backwater town in the middle-of-nowhere in the Roman Empire. I want to rush to Christmas again, but for a different reason now. It is so hard to be patient and to make sure the story gets told again in its entirety – it’s too good to leave anything out. It is very hard to wait, isn’t it! I think that this is a good time to go to God in prayer for God’s guidance and patience, won’t you join me?…
The writer of Third Isaiah is tired of waiting for God to manifest God’s-self to the people. He wants God to be revealed again like God did in the Exodus, where trumpets sounded and fire and smoke covered Mount Sinai. Where the people trembled with fear and begged Moses to speak to God alone because God’s voice was too terrifying. Using the voice of the prophet the writer wonders aloud why God has chosen to be silent, to ignore the people and their wallowing in exile because of their iniquity. The writer wonders how long the people must suffer before God remembers God’s promises and restores God’s favor on them.
We begin our time with the Gospel of Mark more than 80% of the way through it. In the beginning of Chapter 13 the writer has warned the Disciples of the destruction of the Temple, of persecutions and of false Messiah’s. In our reading from today, this portion of Mark is reminding the people (and us) that while we don’t know when Christ will come again, when that does happen, it will not be in silence and in darkness. In fact, the writer states that the Son of Man will be seen coming in clouds with “great power and glory”. Keeping awake and watchful is important – even when it has been millennia that we have waited for this event to occur. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian faithful reminds them that “God is faithful” and that they “…are not lacking any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ….” (verse 7, NRSV)
Because this is what the season of Advent is all about…it is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. Now this appearance of Jesus is both a remembrance of His birth, but equally important, preparation for when Jesus will come again in glory. Our scripture texts for this first Sunday in Advent lead us primarily to think about the latter event rather than the former. It is important to keep both of these events before us as we enter into our season of Advent. With the classic readings of the Luke plus Matthew versions of the birth of Jesus we tend to focus ourselves too narrowly on only the first coming of Jesus. We look backward longingly (like the writer of Isaiah 64) to how God made God’s-self known to the people as a babe in a manger, and we forget the promise made to the Disciples (and to us) that Jesus is not done with us and will be coming again.
When I began to really work with this concept that Advent was not just about a birth, but really about the second coming, I re-discovered my excitement for the season. Here was something worth waiting for! I had gotten a bit jaded in the “remembering” of God’s great works – sort of like the writer of Third Isaiah. This is not to denigrate the birth of Jesus at all – without a “first coming” there would be no “second coming”. I had lost my wonder at the mystery of Wise Men and Shepherds, Angels and a manger, no room at the Inn and gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Because to focus on the birth without focusing on the promise of the second coming is to leave more than half of the story out. To leave out the promise that one day we will see Jesus again coming in clouds and surrounded by power and glory. Once again I find it hard to wait; hard to wait for the fulfilment of God’s great promise in the resurrection of Jesus. The final and absolute defeat of our slavery to sin and to death – which has been begun but has not been revealed in its fullness.
It is a good and a joyful thing always to celebrate the coming of our King Jesus – as we will do in a few moments in Communion! Let us not stop short this season with only celebrating the birth narrative – let’s also look forward with excitement and anticipation to the second coming of Christ. May our hearts, minds, souls and strengths be captivated by the anticipation of both of these divine events. May we spend our time together this Advent preparing our whole selves to be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we spend our time together this Advent season in thanksgiving that Jesus did come in human form and dwelt among us, and changed the world; while changing each and every one of us. May we never lose sight of the fact that we live in an in-between time where the kingdom of God has begun but is not fully realized. May we realize that while we struggle with waiting – because waiting is hard – that we remain focused on preparing ourselves for God’s promise in Jesus to be fulfilled. So come thou long expected Jesus, come and set your people free. And all of God’s people proclaimed, AMEN!!